After two years of intense consultations, the Central Pacific Shipping Commission (CPSC) has set a target for mid-2013 to begin full operation.

The CPSC Committee, which met on 15 November 2012 at the SPC Suva Office, has committed to a number of key milestones to be achieved during the 2012-2013 period, including monitoring performance of current shipping services in the central Pacific region.

CPSC, comprising the governments of Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, was formed in 2010 to regulate shipping in the central Pacific region, similar to how the Micronesian Shipping Commission (MSC) operates in the north Pacific region.

Over the last few years, the issue of regulating shipping in the central Pacific region has been tabled for discussion at various high level meetings, including at the 2012 Smaller Island States Leaders Meeting in Cook Islands, where Forum Leaders expressed full support for this initiative.

SPC Shipping Adviser John Rounds, who has been working closely with CPSC on this matter, said that Pacific Island nations, being disadvantaged by their geographical position, small size and distance from key markets, will always rely on shipping for their economic survival.

He pointed out that, while all Pacific Island countries are now receiving regular and reliable shipping, the high cost of freight to the islands undoubtedly stifles even modest socio-economic growth.

'The issue of affordability has international and national elements. The responsibility of addressing this issue therefore falls on all stakeholders alike; be they shipping companies, agents, ports authorities, border control agencies, importers, consignees or consumers. They all have a part to play,' he said.

'High freight cost has also caused the New Zealand Productivity Commission to look seriously into this issue in New Zealand, as standards of living are affected by these costs. The findings of the commission, released in April 2012, are noteworthy,' he added.

One of the key milestones set by the CPSC Committee is to form a national shipping taskforce in each of the CPSC countries by March 2013. The taskforce groups are expected to assist in collecting trade and shipping data, as well as monitor shipping developments and performance.

The committee has also requested SPC to continue to act as the secretariat for CPSC and assist in monitoring functions of the commission that aim to further improve shipping services in the Pacific.